A moment that couldn't seem to arrive soon enough for the Muscatine boys basketball team is finally here.
A win in Tuesday night's Class 4A substate final against Linn-Mar (13-11) would send the Muskies (15-8) back to the state tournament for the first time since 2002.
As Muscatine coach Gary Belger sat in his office minutes before Muscatine's final practice Monday, he was wishing instead that he were strolling the sidelines of the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, the site of Tuesday's contest.
"Everybody's anxious to play," Belger said. "... We have a good feeling about the game. If we don't get it done, we don't get it done. But we feel that if we do things defensively that we need to do and are patient offensively until Joe (Wieskamp) gets an opening ... he's going to step big time. And we need a couple other people to hold their end of the log.
"We're ready to play."
The last time these two teams met, in last year's 4A substate semifinal, the Muskies needed to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit to escape with a 61-55 victory.
Belger expects another tight contest Tuesday night.
"It's going to be a tall task," he said. "They're very deep. They run nine guys in and out. They're much taller than we are and they shoot the ball much better than we do."
The Lions feature four starters who are 6-foot-4 or taller, whereas the Muskies have three starters 6-foot-1 or shorter. Linn-Mar also owns a slightly better field goal percentage, 45.0 compared to 42.4, and significantly better 3-point percentage, 38.0 to 29.5.
"I think the key to beating them is that they're not hitting eight, nine or 10 3-pointers," Belger said. "I think keeping their percentage down and keeping them to five or six 3-point shots, us not getting in foul trouble and having a good first quarter are all key elements."
The Lions are 7-2 this season when they've made at least eight 3-point shots, but they're 6-9 when they've connected on seven or fewer from beyond the arc.
Another key for the Muskies is continuing to get help for Wieskamp, who is averaging 33.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per contest.
Jackson Foulk, Lex Hahn and Josh Hutton all made big plays in Muscatine's 60-55 win over Davenport North on Friday night, and the team will need more of the same Tuesday night if it wants to keep its season alive.
Facing a much taller Linn-Mar squad, Belger hopes he can also lean on 6-foot-7 senior Bryce Howard to help take away some of that size advantage for the Lions.
"We'd like to see Bryce have a real nice game," Belger said. "We think that's important. We're going to need more size, and we need for him to step up. We hope Lex has the same kind of game, and we think he will. He had a good practice (Sunday). And Jack needs to hit the outside shots. That's vitally important for us."
Belger knows, though, that he's going to need more than just the players on his roster to show up for Tuesday night's game, which tips off at 6:30 p.m.
"We need the city of Muscatine to get up to this game," he said. "I think that's going to be really important. This team, as I've told them all year, they're playing for a lot more than themselves. They're playing for this community."